Developing relationships with program managers is essential to SBIR success. These relationships become even more important after your company receives an award. In this blog post, I talk about some of the ways that you can initiate, develop and maintain a solid working relationship with your program manager.
It’s never too early to start initiating contact with program managers. Each solicitation includes the names and contact information of the relevant PMs. A good way to make the initial contact is to first send an email introducing yourself and your company, then follow up with a phone call. The important thing to remember here is to be persistent. PMs are busy, just like we all are. Most have other duties and are not devoted solely to the SBIR program.
Another great way to meet program managers is to go the yearly national SBIR conference (or a regional SBIR conference), or simply set up an appointment with them to visit their office. Of course, in-person meetings are preferred, but not required.
Once you have their attention, your goal is to SELL your science. Pretend they are a potential investor (because, indeed, they are). See what they’re interested in and ask about the goals of the agency. Bounce several ideas off of them and maybe one of them will be a winner. Getting a “green light” from a PM for your idea is a major step in the road to SBIR success. If the first agency you contact seems lukewarm on your idea, then shop it around to another agency. You can alter your idea a bit to fit within the aims of the agency, but make sure that the path you take is still within the goals you set for your business. At some agencies, including NSF and DoD, the PM makes the recommendation for award, underscoring the importance of getting on their radar.
Once you receive an award, many agencies plan a get-together for awardees with a meet-and-greet with PMs. Now they can start to get to know you and your company better. Keep in regular touch with your PM (above and beyond the reporting requirements). Find out the PM’s preferred method and frequency of contact and then put it in your calendar. Your relationship with your PM should be similar to that of a company advisor or investor. There are numerous advantages to being in the “inner circle” with your PM and the agency. They can give you a heads-up about a new solicitation, or even bounce ideas off of you for a future solicitation. They can tell you about additional funding and agency-specific assistance opportunities you didn’t know existed, and maybe even slip you some “leftover” money to help you do another cool experiment or make it until your next award (yes, I’ve heard this happens!).
Feel free to share your experiences with your PM, and if you need help with your strategy to obtain non-dilutive funding, don’t hesitate to contact The Isis Group!